Early Autism Diagnosis through Eye Movements
New research suggests that autism can be diagnosed years in advance by tracking the eye movements of toddlers. Two recent studies have shown that by presenting children with videos of social interactions and observing where their eyes focus, it is possible to detect signs of autism in patients as young as one year old. This innovative approach provides a potentially early and less stressful means of diagnosis compared to the traditional methods.
Eye Movements as Biomarkers
The research indicates that the direction of a toddler’s gaze while watching social interactions can serve as an objective biomarker for the early signs of autism. This is a significant breakthrough considering that autism is notoriously challenging to identify, with the average age of diagnosis being around five years old in the United States. The conventional diagnostic process often involves numerous hospital visits and a battery of tests, which can be emotionally taxing for both children and their families.
Promising Results from Eye-Tracking Studies
Professor Warren Jones, the lead author and a pediatrician at Emory University in Georgia, emphasized the promising results of these studies. In one of the studies, researchers examined over 1,000 children aged one to two-and-a-half who displayed autism-like symptoms or had genetic risk factors for the condition. These children were shown short videos depicting various social interactions among young children, while specialized cameras meticulously tracked their eye movements at a rate of 120 times per second.
The eye-tracking data was then processed using computer algorithms specifically trained to identify autism-related patterns. In comparison to diagnoses made by clinicians, this eye-tracking method demonstrated an 86 percent accuracy rate in detecting the disorder. Of the over 1,000 children in the first study, 519 received an autism diagnosis, while 570 did not.
Reducing Diagnosis Waiting Times
The second study, which also examined the accuracy of eye-tracking measurements, found a 78 percent success rate in diagnosing autism. Autism, which affects one in 36 children in the United States, results in developmental challenges related to social communication, self-expression, and repetitive behaviors.
Dr. Ami Klin, a co-author and medical professor at Emory University, highlighted the potential impact of these findings. It could mean that children who would typically wait for two or more years, enduring referrals and uncertainty before being diagnosed at four or five years old, could instead receive a diagnosis as early as just over a year to two and a half years old.
Reducing Diagnosis Waiting Times
In the United States, families often wait an average of two years and three months for an autism diagnosis, while in the UK, the wait is typically over a year, and the average age of diagnosis is over five years old. Although the exact cause of autism remains uncertain, researchers believe it results from a combination of genetic factors, family history, parents’ age, and environmental influences. Additionally, the severity of the disorder varies widely across the autism spectrum, making individualized treatment necessary.
These groundbreaking studies were published in the journals JAMA and JAMA Network Open, offering hope for earlier autism diagnoses and improved outcomes for affected children.Share on Facebook «||» Share on Twitter «||» Share on Reddit «||» Share on LinkedIn